Capercaillie could disappear again in 20-30 years, report warns

The study, led by a subgroup of the NatureScot Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC), also warns that current breeding success appears too low to allow for the re-population of birds that are found only in Scotland.

It says “renewed intensive measures” are needed to save the population, with a focus on options that will improve the survival of eggs and young chicks.

The report warned that any delay in their adoption “could lead to population decline to the point where extinction becomes inevitable.”

Critically Endangered: Capercaillie

The proposed measures include controlling predators such as crows, foxes and pine martens, as well as “distraction feeding” by offering them alternative food during the breeding season.

The report suggests that capercaillie shelters be established to minimize disturbance, while the survival of adults would be enhanced by additional work to mark or remove deer fences that could cause injury or death to birds in flight.

Eileen Stewart, Deputy Director of Nature and Climate Change at NatureScot, the Scottish Environment Agency, said: “It is clear that the future of capercaillie in Scotland is extremely vulnerable. This excellent report outlines the scientific evidence for capercaillie conservation and management, and the steps that are currently needed to save this key species.

“We recognize the urgency of the situation and this report will be critical as we consider options to accelerate action on the ground. Important work is already underway, so there is work to be done.”

The capercaillie became extinct in Britain in the late 18th century, but was successfully reintroduced to Scotland in the mid-19th century.

The most recent study (in 2015–2016) estimated the population at 1,114 birds, a significant decrease from the 1970s when the population was thought to be around 20,000 birds, while there has also been a marked reduction in its geographic range.

Bird numbers have declined due to increased predation by foxes, pine martens and crows, as well as more disturbance caused by rural users.

It offers additional predator control to remove crows and foxes and relocate pine martens to other parts of the UK.

NatureScot and the Cairngorms National Park Authority are reviewing the report in detail and working with partners to develop options to improve the capercaillie’s prospects.

Grant Moir, Executive Director of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “The Capercaillie is an iconic species in the Cairngorms National Park and we are working hard with partners at the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project to help ensure their long-term survival.

“We applaud the Scientific Advisory Committee subgroup’s report as it gives us the best evidence that we are addressing key issues such as disturbance and predation.”

The report highlights the importance of further action in the main areas of Badenoch and Strathspey if we are to conserve the population.

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater, MSP, said: “Capercaillie are magnificent birds and an iconic species for Scotland, so I am deeply concerned that their populations continue to decline.”

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